Hackers/Founders Holds the First Political Growthathon to Pass Immigration Reform


To encourage the tech community to take action on immigration reform, Hackers/Founders has created DEBUG DC.

Immigration issues are a challenge for many members of the Hackers/Founders community. Many tech founders are in Silicon Valley on temporary visas and constantly face the threat of being kicked out of the country while they try to raise money from investors, grow their companies, and hire their first employees.

DEBUG DC is a ‘growthathon’ that uses the hackathon model to encourage political action. On June 21-22, computer programmers, growth hackers (data-driven marketers), data scientists, and UI/UX designers came together to hack for two days and use their skills to motivate constituents in key districts to contact their representatives and request their support for immigration reform. H/F led DEBUG DC as a grassroots effort to work with people across the US to change this country’s broken immigration system.

Participants came from as far as Texas and New York and included individuals immediately impacted by immigration reform. Prizes for the winning teams included meetings with Vinod Khosla (Khosla Ventures), Craig Newmark (craigslist/craigconnects), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco), and Dan’l Lewin (Microsoft), as well as prizes from Twilio and Rackspace.

One of the key objectives for H.F was to learn some best practices from the experience. We want to take the lessons from DEBUG DC and apply them to future growthathons. As Jonathan Nelson put it, “we need to know what worked and what didn’t work.

Some of the teams are still fine-tuning their projects, so it’s still too early to draw any final conclusions on technical lessons. But here are a few takeaways we have so far:

  • Community. Work with everyone. One thing became very clear, the issues around immigration impact everyone: startups, big companies, tech and non-tech.
  • Advocacy. Much more can be done. Some of the teams were able to generate huge amounts of activity from individuals and even people in Congressional districts thought to be against immigration reform.
  • Engagement. Try new approaches. Successful teams focused on engagement; for example, leveraging Twilio to create a radio station that tells personal stories of individuals dealing with the immigration process; or building a game to illustrate how complex, unwieldy, and even random, the current the existing green card application process is.
  • Wide versus targeted. Don’t just think scale. Some teams tried to target thousands of people while others drilled down into very specific communities. In the long-term, we aren’t sure which approach will have the most impact. But so far and in the short term, hyper-targeted approaches seem to work best.
  • Education. Move away from propaganda. There are enough groups on either side who are screaming and yelling. People seem to respond better to tools that provide education rather than orders – empowering individuals to make their own decisions and get involved on their terms.

For more information or to get involved in future H/F growthathon events, please email us: [email protected]